Church closures for corporate worship during the second lockdown
From the Revd Oliver Harrison
Sir, — Is it is really so hard for the Bishops and Archbishops to accept the law and stay within its limits? Acceptance doesn’t have to have to be unquestioning and uncritical, but it behoves our bishops to set a good example. Have they, though?
During the first lockdown, they illegally ordered clergy out of their buildings. An understandable overreaction — or unjustified overreach? Well, we all make mistakes. But that became a matter of credibility and culpability when they claimed that it was never anything more than advice and guidance: a “clarification” that many believed to be risible and some thought mendacious.
Their ban on church funerals, although services were allowed by the Government and conducted by other denominations, was also ultra vires. But, having gone beyond what the law required in the spring, they now want an exemption from the law for places of worship during the current lockdown.
Why? Gathering together in person for religious services is good and important, but surely not essential during a pandemic. Besides, any ban is only temporary. Bishops are not above the law, canon or statute, and (as long as it doesn’t break any Higher Law) they should accept its limitations and work within them.
64 Glascote Lane
Tamworth B77 2PH
From the Revd Geoffrey Fenton
Sir, — The founder of our faith prioritised the sick and ailing, taught and experienced fully the sacrificial life, spelt out that caring for neighbours was a top priority, modelled regular solitary prayer in a place apart, and focused on the vital importance of unselfish behaviour.
With these values at the core of our faith, I don’t understand arguing that the Church’s top priority is to allow its members to meet during lockdown, thus (obviously) increasing the risk of spreading the virus. Arguing that services must happen for people’s essential spiritual well-being, that the elderly should be encouraged to come out to Remembrance services, that church Sunday services can happen because they are really, really safe — honestly!
Every group that meets regularly could argue the same. Millions of others are being hard hit financially. Why can’t we just fully support a complete lockdown for the benefit of the sick and ailing and to prevent our hospitals’ being overwhelmed?
Widecombe in the Moor
Devon TQ13 7TF
From the Revd Dr John Caperon
Sir, — It’s now widely accepted that the Archbishops were mistaken in their “advice” that clergy should not enter their churches during the first national lockdown. This time, with lockdown 2.0, the Church has rightly taken a different stance, objecting to the closure of churches for public worship and urging the value of the shared eucharist as a spiritual and human good, and as the heart of the practice of our faith.
Bishop Brian Castle’s bold article (Church Times Online, 10 November), recalling the repressive Zimbabwean regime under Mugabe, is a reminder that the possible implications of the present ban on public worship are considerable. One doesn’t have to be an extreme libertarian to suggest that the direction of travel is sinister.
The Prime Minster once referred jocularly to the “Englishman’s natural born right to go to the pub”; far more insidious than any ban on public houses is the current ban on attending the house of God for worship.
Crowborough TN6 1YE
From the Revd Steve Cook
Sir, — The second lockdown is for four weeks. During this time, the focus of Christian worship can and should be on the home, where mature Christians will continue to be able to study the word of God, to pray, and to call upon the Holy Spirit, even without the availability of the sacraments. Such home-based faith (similar to Judaism) can be supplemented in many cases by online worship of many kinds, such as Bible studies on Zoom and live-streaming of services. Pastoral care and even the sacrament of reconciliation can be offered on the phone.
The notion that Christianity must be practised in sacred places appears to be what lies behind much of the reaction against the government decision, but it lacks New Testament authority.
There is no evidence whatsoever that the practice of Christian or any other faith is being suppressed. It is simple prudence and wisdom in attempting to limit the scope of infection from a potentially deadly virus, indeed a virus that is deadliest to the most vulnerable ones who are so often part of church life.
The Bishops supported the first lockdown and were right to do so.
St Barnabas Vicarage
449 Rochester Way
London SE9 6PH
From Mr Robin Harragin Hussey
Sir, — I cannot think of a faith more opposed to the “Positive Thinking” that Canon Angela Tilby writes about (Comment, 16 October) than Christian Science. Yet she implies that Christian Science is one of the sources for the religious positivism espoused by Norman Vincent Peale and his church, which Donald Trump attended as a young man.
This connection is unfounded. Christian Science did indeed emerge in America at the same time as what came to be called the New Thought movement, from which Peale drew his ideas. But it is very different from it, not least in its rejection of the human mind as the source for effective change and healing.
The teachings of Christian Science are grounded in the view that an infinite and loving God is the only source of all good. The founder of the movement, Mary Baker Eddy, was aware of how others around her were promoting the power of the mind and spoke of the “fact that the human mind alone suffers, is sick, and that the divine Mind (God) alone heals”.
At this time, Christian Scientists are far more likely to be humbly praying to know and see more of God’s goodness and loving kindness to humanity than thinking of their own achievements and success.
ROBIN HARRAGIN HUSSEY
Christian Science Committee on Publication, London; District Manager for UK and IrelandGolden Cross House
8 Duncannon Street
London WC2N 4JF
Time to commemorate God’s creative witnesses
From Canon N. P. A. Jowett
Sir, — Canon Rod Garner recalls Karl Barth’s surprisingly high valuation of Mozart’s music (Faith, 23 October) as a source of spiritual inspiration and understanding. I doubt if he would propose that Mozart be placed in a calendar of saints to be commemorated, and neither would I, given Mozart’s sketchy adherence to the Church. But there is a broader issue.
It is obviously right that the Church remember those who, in life and in death, achieved personal standards of faith, love, charity, defence of justice, mission breakthrough, and theological learning. But what of those people of faith who communicated that faith chiefly through their gifts in art, music, creative writing, or scientific research?
Who has inspired more faith in others than J. S. Bach? From Fra Angelico to Georges Rouault and beyond, Christian artists have helped people to “see salvation”. Writers such as John Milton or R. S. Thomas have left bodies of work which will go on feeding Christian imaginations for centuries. Robert Boyle and Gregor Mendel were among many Christians who gave amazing gifts in scientific research.
How can you listen to William Byrd or Olivier Messiaen without hearing their faith flooding out to you? It’s time for the Church of England to be brave and to add at least a few significant names in these fields to its calendar of commemorations.
303A Hollinsend Road
Sheffield S12 2NL
DAC response on delays after lead-thefts
From Captain Christopher Hyldon RN
Sir, — I was disappointed to read the heartfelt letter from Kate Cameron (30 October) concerning delays in obtaining an emergency faculty after the theft of lead from the church roof. I am aware that this issue has been dealt with at local level, but her letter deserves a response.
In the instance of an application for an emergency faculty, the application would not normally come to the diocesan advisory committee (DAC), although, before making a decision, the Diocesan Chancellor may ask a specialist committee member or assessor to express a view.
The change in roofing material in this case also necessitated approval by the local planning authority, and, while it would be nice to think that the two processes could be run in parallel, this is not always possible. I fully acknowledge that, although this application did not come before the committee, the process clearly failed the church. Since the relatively recent appointment of a diocesan church-buildings officer, we have been looking very seriously at how we can improve the process for all applications.
It has been apparent to me, as chairman of a DAC for some years, that the DAC can be an easy target for incumbents and churchwardens when difficulties arise after a faculty application. I accept that, but we, as the national Church, have a responsibility in law to ensure that due diligence is carried out for all faculty applications, because of the requirement we have been given under ecclesiastical jurisdiction for alterations to our churches. A like-for-like replacement would not normally need a faculty, but a significant change such as material or equipment would.
This responsibility for assessing and advising the Diocesan Chancellor is not undertaken lightly and that is why so many professional people, many of whom are still in full-time work, give their time freely in the same way as our churchwardens, to assess, manage, and recommend applications. This means that we cannot always expect an instantaneous response, although we endeavour to respond as rapidly as possible.
Churchwarden, and Chairman of Bath & Wells DAC
Mill Stream Barn
Big spending in Oxford
From Mr Don Manley
Sir, — I see (23 October) that the diocese of Oxford is advertising for a “New Congregations Enabler” to help grow (via 20 “Greenhouses”) 750 new worshipping communities over the next ten years with an investment of £4.5 million, thereby creating “a thriving mixed ecclesial economy where traditional parish churches flourish alongside new churches and congregations”.
This is a huge decision I have not previously heard about at parish level, and I am more than a little uneasy about it. Should I be? What is going on?
26 Hayward Road
Oxford OX2 8LW